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Audible Offers Lottery For Employees To Live 1 Year Rent-Free In Newark, N.J.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Before we leave New Jersey, we should talk about a more recent tech breakthrough that happened there. Twenty years ago, the Garden State firm Audible introduced the world's first commercially available portable digital audio player.

DON KATZ: We built this thing and brought it up four and a half years before the iPod.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Don Katz is founder and CEO of the company. You may have heard messages acknowledging Audible support for NPR on our air. Katz started the revolution in modern mobile listening and then did something equally radical. He moved his company from a leafy New Jersey suburb to Newark. That's right, to Newark.

KATZ: When we moved here in 2007, I was told we were going to lose 25 percent of our employees because of the decision to come to a challenged city.

SIEGEL: In the distant past, Newark was in fact a place for innovation. Celluloid, the first commercially successful plastic, came from there, but in the last few decades, plastics is not what most people think of when someone mentions the city.

DEANNA PAQUETTE: Crime - that's kind of what people think of when they hear Newark.

MCEVERS: That's Deanna Paquette, a senior designer at Audible. Despite the negative associations she had with the city, she now lives there. That's because her boss, Don Katz, is a big booster of the city.

KATZ: Newark's definitely on the road to becoming a place that pioneers want to go.

MCEVERS: Audible ran a housing lottery for employees a few months back. The company would pay their rent for a year as long as they signed a two-year lease at a renovated building in downtown Newark. Of the 1,000 employees, 64 applied. Paquette was one of the 20 winners. She had been living in Brooklyn.

PAQUETTE: I was commuting to Newark. It was about an hour and a half each way.

MCEVERS: She gave that up, and now she can walk to work. But as a native New Yorker, she is still faced with a psychological barrier.

PAQUETTE: We have a thing against New Jersey to begin with.

MCEVERS: And that's a prejudice even free rent can't undo.

(SOUNDBITE OF STROBO'S "AMAZONIA BANG BANG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.